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How big is the sound of music?

Lucas Mearian | March 22, 2013
Music fans and major recording artists are adopting lossless audio file formats to keep copies of their music thats as close to a master recording as possible, leading to multi-terabyte-sized home music storage systems.

Young, in fact, created his own digital-to-analog conversion (DAC) service called Pono. Young has tweeted that the Pono cloud-based music service, along with Pono portable digital-to-analog players, will be available by summer.

Young's service would increase the quality, or sampling rate, of the music from 44,100 times per second in a CD (44.1KHz) to 192,000 times per second (192KHz), and will boost the bit depth from 16-bit to 24-bit.

Within file formats, there are many sampling rates (also known as sample frequencies); the higher the sampling rate, the higher the sound quality, or amount of data you can hear. For example, as mentioned earlier, an uncompressed CD has a sampling rate of 44,100Hz (44.1KHz) with 16 bits of data per sample.

The sample rate of a digital file refers to the number of "snapshots" of audio that are offered up every second. Think of it like a high-definition movie, where the more frames per second you have, the higher the quality.

The bit depth is similar to pixels in a photograph. The more bits there are in an area, the higher the resolution. Audio recorded at the common 16-bit depth rate has lower resolution than music recorded at the higher, industry-standard 24-bit depth rate.

Gravell and others argue that the human ear is not sensitive enough to discern the differences between an MP3 file and a lossless audio file format. In fact, some blind tests have shown listeners can't tell the difference, Gravell said.

Hi-def music stores

David Chesky, who co-founded, disagrees. Chesky, a composer, pianist and a three-time Grammy nominee, started the high-definition music site with his brother in 2008. A few hundred thousand people visit the site each month to purchase music, Chesky said, adding "and we're scaling out: Millions of people in the world are audiophiles."

It's just common sense that the higher the resolution -- the more data that's in an audio file -- the better the sound quality, Chesky said.

"It's not rocket science to see how much more information is in that file," Chesky said. "We're like a 1080p high-definition television set next to a 15-inch black and white. We're for people who listen to music attentively. If you want to listen to music while you're vacuuming, we're not the service for you."

David Chesky, co-founder of high-fidelity digital music store HDtracks, listens to music over a vacuum-tube amplifier.

HDtracks sells songs and albums in multiple lossless file formats, along with the cover art and liner notes in a PDF file download. The music comes in varying resolutions, or sample rates and bit depths -- from CD quality to master recording downloads that take up a gigabyte of capacity and, for obvious reasons, can tax broadband or cellular connections.


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